New research has found a link between support for Donald Trump and mask-wearing behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, published in the Eastern Economic Journal, suggests that Trump’s infrequent use of masks in public may have influenced his voters to follow in his footsteps.
“My interest in the topic was sparked by an article I came across in the New York Times which provided a detailed map (using data from a survey conducted by Dynata),” explained study author Leo H. Kahane, the Michael A. Ruane Distinguished Chair in Economics at Providence College.
“The map showed mask-wearing behavior in the U.S. at the county level during the COVID-19 pandemic. I noticed a similarity to voting patterns in the 2016 presidential election and a thought occurred to me: Are voters who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election following his example of being reluctant to wear a mask in public? That is, are Trump supporters modeling the president’s behavior?”
Dynata’s survey included 250,000 U.S. respondents, who indicated between July 2 and July 14, 2020 how often they wore a mask in public. Using data from the survey, Kahane found there was a negative relationship between mask-wearing behavior and county-level votes for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. In other words, those living in counties with a higher share of Trump voters tended to exhibit less mask-wearing behavior.
This was true even after controlling for a number a factors, including but not limited to population density, household income, unemployment rate, COVID-19 cases, and state-wide mask laws.
“The empirical analysis, which has controls for all sorts of other factors that may be associated with mask-wearing behavior, finds strong support for the notion that counties that strongly supported Trump during the 2016 election also demonstrated much lower mask-wearing behavior during the pandemic,” Kahane told PsyPost.
“The underlying message is that the behavior of role models is important. Had Trump embraced the guidance of the CDC and strongly supported mask wearing (and had he worn one himself more often) then I predict there would have been greater mask wearing by his supporters.”
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“One caveat is that it is difficult to prove that Trump’s reluctance to support mask wearing and his own reluctance to wear a mask had a causal effect on his supporters. While this seems to be the most plausible conclusion, there is another interpretation. It may be the case that the reluctance of some individuals to wear masks could be driven more generally by ‘anti-science’ beliefs,” Kahane explained.
“In this case, if Trump also displays a general mistrust of science, then the correlation between mask-wearing behavior and voting for Trump may be due to this mutual mistrust of science rather than Trump’s reluctance to wear a mask specifically.”
The study, “Politicizing the Mask: Political, Economic and Demographic Factors Affecting Mask Wearing Behavior in the USA“, was published January 5, 2021.